By Ryan Fleming
Many have said, including myself, that the tide of this World Cup is fully behind the United States Women’s National Team – seemingly guiding them through Brazil, France — the final swell is Japan. It’s time to say it, Japan might be the team of destiny in this World Cup.
A lot has to be said and already has been said about the USWNT. Coming from behind against an extremely talented Brazil team, with only 10-women, scoring the latest goal ever in the Women’s World Cup (122nd minute) then claiming victory in what seemed to be all too easy penalty kicks.
Defeating France, going up early on Lauren Cheney’s deflection, then playing determined, skillfull soccer after Les Bleues tied the score. Brazil hero, Abby Wambach and super-sub Alex Morgan scoring the US’s following goals late in the second half.
Japan though, has to be praised as well.
Despite holding a 22-0-3 overall against Japan, they fear no one. That statement couldn’t have been backed up with more umph than the 1-0 win over Germany where the Japanese were the more physical side and in that match, the more talented side. Its win over Germany, the host country, is one of the biggest upsets, arguably the biggest, in Women’s World Cup history.
Japan like every team playing in this tournament is playing for a country, are representatives of a country. Their beliefs, their religions, their people – totally representation of a nation somewhere in the world. But for Japan, this tournament is a bit more special than most. Yes, the US last went to the World Cup Final in 1999 where Mia Hamm, Brianna Scurry and Brandi Chastain made the USWNT famous, but the Nadeshiko, the nickname of the Japanese women’s team that means a flower of classic beauty, are playing for a country that has been ravaged by tragedy this past year. A tragedy where the country had to call its soccer seasons off.
When the tsunami struck Japan on March 11, killing 15,000 people and replacing thousands, maybe millions, this tournament, once the Nadeshiko qualified for it, meant a lot more than most countries.
These women, like the rest in the tournament embody a country, but for them this World Cup is a victory of saddens, over defeat, over a struggle to survive. Like a nation rebuilding itself, the Nadeshiko are patching their people’s morale. The star of Japanese, Homare Sawa, who scored a hat trick against Mexico and the game-winning goal against Sweden, is the symbol for this team. But what makes this team different, is that for a courageous, determined nation, the team as a whole is feeding off their country.
Win or lose, Japan has made the tournament more entertaining, proud for those watching. But for their country they stand for a hope and determination that in this final game against the US, the tide that destroyed much of Japan could bring them home the World Cup and prove to the world they can’t be kept down.
Ryan Fleming can be reached at Ryan.Fleming@thesoccerguysonline.com.